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Probe: Robbers Used Weapons Smuggled From Iraq by Soldier

In the aftermath of a 2004 bank robbery in Northwest, an unidentified member of the gang carries an AK-47.
In the aftermath of a 2004 bank robbery in Northwest, an unidentified member of the gang carries an AK-47. (Wttg Fox 5 News)

"I felt my car shake," she said.

Collins was alone in her cruiser, armed with a 9mm handgun. It wasn't a fair fight. Later, she said, police counted47 shots fired at her -- including slugs that lodged in her gas tank and in a seat eight inches away.

"I had a BB gun compared to them," she said.

The bank robbery gang was always looking to increase its arsenal, according to testimony during the trial of six of the members last year. During that trial, at the federal courthouse in Washington, a firearms expert testified that the rifles were made in Saudi Arabia and Romania.

The gang's acquisition of the weapons was detailed in testimony by two other gang members who pleaded guilty and became prosecution witnesses: Omar Holmes and Noureddine Chtaini.

In the spring of 2004, Holmes told the jury, he heard through the neighborhood grapevine that some heavy-duty weapons were available for the right price. A meeting was set up in an industrial park behind a car wash near Kenilworth Avenue in Prince George's. Several gang members, including Holmes and Chtaini, showed up in a stolen BMW, Holmes testified.

They waited. They smoked marijuana. They waited some more.

Finally, a white Crown Victoria pulled up in the deserted industrial park. Holmes recognized the driver as an old school friend.

"I didn't know he was the guy, but when I found out it was him I talked to him for a little while," Holmes testified. "He told me he was in the Army and he went to Iraq and all that type stuff."

They walked around to the back of the car and pulled an Army backpack out of the trunk. Inside were five assault weapons: four AK-47s and a World War II-style submachine gun with a banana clip, Holmes testified. One of the AK-47s was chrome-plated; another came with a bayonet. Others had wooden handles, he said.

Chtaini testified that the gang test-fired three of the weapons in the parking lot that night. Police said they later found dozens of shell casings at the site.

"We didn't test-fire the chrome one because the other three were fully automatic and that's what -- you know, that's what we were looking for," Holmes testified.

Holmes was sentenced to 51 months in prison for various crimes tied to the gang, and Chtaini is serving a 14-year term.

Soldiers historically have brought back souvenirs of faraway battles. Gary D. Solis, a former Marine Corps judge who teaches military law, said that as a company commander in Vietnam, he knew of a fellow officer who mailed a gun home to the U.S. piece by piece.

"What is disturbing is not just the onesies and twosies, but the guys who do it for commercial purposes or do it on a scale that is dangerous," Solis said.

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